Please meet Delores Topliff, friend, author, and blog guest. I met Dee at the My Book Therapy retreat with Susie May Warren, a few years ago. We’ve stayed in touch, and over the years I’ve gotten to know her better. Today she’s sharing a little bit about her journey as a children’s book author. And since I’m such a “Random” girl I love writing children’s books too, so I was interested to learn from her. I hope you are too.
Please welcome Delores.
My Path to Writing Children’s Books
I didn’t start out to write children’s stories. In third grade I rattled off rhymed tales as classmates urged me on when the teacher would leave the room. I enjoyed their appreciation.
When I was a teenager caring for a younger sister and brother, I’d get asked to tell stories, and I did.
“What kind?” I’d ask, and they’d always tell me.
Over time, that produced favorites that they and neighbor kids said I should write down. Eventually, I expanded one, hired an artist, and The Adventures of Little Big Chief–The Bear Hunt won an international prize before becoming my second published children’s book.
But, Whoosh, my first, happened a different way. My ten-year-old son came home from school, tossed his hat onto the couch, and told me he’d prayed for God to send him an owl as a pet. He’d told his classmates one would be coming, too. I was horrified, as there were no owls in our remote area, and I didn’t want to see the kids disappointed.
But an owl did come, and I was surprised and blessed. I wrote that experience as a grateful mom thanking God for answering a boy’s prayer. Aglow Magazine printed it, and later another magazine did a reprint. When attending the Write to Publish Conference in Wheaton, Illinois, I showed the Baker Books editor my published works portfolio.
She said, “You need to turn this into a children’s book.”
“I do? How?” I said.
“Tell it from the boy’s point of view. Divide the story into pages, either 24 or 32, suggest words and a picture for each page, and we’ll publish it.”
After giving me a few more tips, she sent me off to get to work. We emailed back and forth. But before long, her company bought Bethany House and closed their children’s books to expand other areas. She apologized profusely. But after a while, I realized that if Baker thought my book was a good idea, I could self-publish. With the help of a small local house, I did.
I’ve sold enough to more than get my cost back, but writing children’s books, like writing in general, is more about getting stories out and having fun, than earning money.
After publishing Whoosh, friends and relatives told me I must publish Little Big Chief–The Bear Hunt. Close friends who’ve published school books for twenty years urged me to start my own publishing company. “We’ll teach you everything you need to know,” they said, and they did.
Both Little Big Chief, and its sequel, Little Chief and Ogopogo, have come out through my TrueNorth Publishing, and I’m helping writing friends birth books as well.
Choosing the right artist is very important. After seeing good artist samples from England, Switzerland, and Brazil, I paid $1,000 more for my work for hire contract with Jessie Nilo, an American artist whose work perfectly captures the spirit of my books. She’s illustrated all three and I recommend her to anyone. Having the right art sells books just as much as writing the right words.
Check my website delorestopliff.com under the books tab for samples of all three books. (Or click the book links above to go directly to Amazon.) The last two books are told in rollicking rhyme.
Some stores say Little Big Chief–the Bear Hunt is too long, so I’ve learned the following:
- It’s important to match word length to reader ages. Too many words on the page can crowd the art.
- It’s also important to arrange word placement so that the next idea or unfinished crisis keeps readers turning pages.
- It’s also important to match reading level to targeted reader ages. Both Microsoft Word and Office include the Rudolph Flesch reader grade level and ease of readability guide to apply to text in options provided under the Spelling & Grammar feature. I easily applied it to this blog. (To learn how to find this feature and learn the readability of your work click HERE.)
- Make use of other helpful guides suggesting book lengths by ages, lists of appropriate words for reading levels, etc. There are many helps available to tell your children’s stories with success.
- But, of course, the best judges are the children themselves. If you don’t have children or grandchildren, borrow some. Mine have been invaluable in deciding which words tell the story best, and make great suggestions. But best of all is when the book goes to press, gets printed and returns in big boxes brought by a huge truck delivering thousands of copies of books with colorful printed pages that we can share with the public.
You may instead choose to go the print-on-demand or e-book routes–but those options both involve enough information for separate blog posts.
A note from Michelle: Stay tuned for my blog posts on how to publish your children’s books using a print-on-demand and ebook company.
My children’s chapter book series, ECLAIR, will be published in 2014 through CREATE SPACE and KDP Select. I’m currently working with an illustrator. Eclair is a literal seven-year-old girl who moves to her eccentric grandma’s farm when her mother becomes ill and her father looks for a new job.
Today, millions of children are being raised by their grandparents due to economical hardships, disease, and substance abuse. Eclair and her grandma, Stella, bring laughter to a difficult time.
I’ll be sure to post my journey specifics for you to learn from too.